The author of the best-selling Dinner with a Perfect Stranger (2005) and A Day with a Perfect Stranger (2006), David Gregory has just released his third novella in the series, Night with a Perfect Stranger (Worthy Publishing). Between Perfect Stranger books, David authored a parable novella, The Next Level, and a full-length novel, The Last Christian, a 2011 Christy Award finalist in the Visionary category.
You published two Perfect Stranger novels in 2005 and 2006, but are just now coming out with the third. Why the wait?
Ask my former publisher! I actually wanted Night with a Perfect Stranger to be the second Perfect Stranger book, because its message was so much on my heart. But after the success of Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, my publisher wanted me to write another seeker-oriented novella. That worked out fine, actually. I was pleased with how the story turned out and very pleased with how God seemed to use it in readers’ lives. As for the long wait for the third installment, I never stopped wanting to write the third one, but I couldn’t sell my publisher on it. In 2010 I finally went ahead and wrote it. It sat in my computer for a year before my agent sold it to Worthy Publishing, who was very excited about it.
What is it about the Perfect Stranger stories that readers seem to relate to?
I think they work because it’s a situation all of us want to be in—sitting with Jesus face to face, getting answers from him. The books enable us to at least imagine being in that circumstance. What would we want to ask? How would Jesus respond? I try to make Nick representative of what most readers would have on their hearts and minds, and I try to make Jesus’s responses fit his revelation of himself in the New Testament as closely as possible.
You’ve had an unusual writing career path. You first novella was a huge overnight success, but your subsequent books, despite good reviews, haven’t matched that sales success. In retrospect, would you have done anything differently?
I would have stuck more closely to what was on my heart to write instead of what seemed marketable. We always do our best writing when we stick with what’s on our heart to write. I have found that writing a book because a publisher thinks it will do well is, for me, a disaster. It may turn out to be a good book, and it may even sell well. But I won’t enjoy the process of writing it. I can’t imagine agreeing to do that again. Writing well is hard enough as it is; I don’t want to add misery to the process! And, the truth is, in the long run it’s evident to readers what our heart is into and what it’s not into. I think God lays a story on an author’s heart. If we follow that leading, God will bless it. Maybe not in sales—maybe not even in publication. Maybe God is simply doing something inside us. But he will bless it.
Why was this a book you wanted so badly to write?
My previous (nonfiction) writing life focused on Christian growth. I co-authored two books that taught about the believer’s identity in Christ, our spirit union with Christ, the reality of Christ living through us, and the fullness of God’s grace. Once I started writing fiction, I wanted to put those themes into story form, because God has opened the door for me to write for people who might never open a 250 page theology book, but who love a good story. So in Night with a Perfect Stranger, I revisit my original character in Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, Nick Cominsky. Nick met Jesus, became a believer, and everything was great for a couple of years. But now it’s six years down the road, and after having been caught in the typical evangelical treadmill of church programs and endless spiritual to-do’s, Nick is in bad shape. He’s done all the “right things,” but he’s lost his sense of closeness with God, he’s disillusioned with the Christian life, and he’s despairing at ever finding the abundance Jesus promised. This book has always been so much on my heart because that’s a place I think almost all of us have been, or still are. I wanted to address the questions that I think are on so many of our hearts.
So Nick encounters Jesus again, this time with the theme of . . .?
This time with the theme of Christ in us. Nick has had the life all along. He just doesn’t know it. So as he’s driving a U-Haul on a late night trip from Chicago to Cincinnati, runs out of gas on the interstate, and coasts to a stop on the shoulder, his headlights shine on Jesus, holding a gas can for him. Jesus has things to tell him, and show him, that he’s never dreamed of.
Do you have another project on the horizon?
Actually, not on the horizon, but rather in the here and now. I’ve just released a political novella called Patriot Rules as an e-book. I’ve wanted for some time to write a Perfect Stranger type book involving the Founding Fathers and time travel. What if a college student from the present had the opportunity to go back to the Constitutional Convention and remake the Constitution? What if, in the process, he could interact with the Founders in their own circumstances from the Revolutionary period? It was fun writing a fantastical story that presents the philosophical foundation for why the Founders set up our government the way they did. I’m hoping it falls into the hands of lots of graduates this summer!